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Garba: The Nine-Night Dance

Garba dance

Gujarat is a state of India that is located on the western coast of the Arabian sea. Garba is one of the most celebrated dance forms in Gujarat. It is traditionally performed during the nine-day Hindu festival called ‘Navratri’. The word ‘nav’ means nine and ‘ratri’ means night. Thus, the festival derives its name from its celebration over a period of nine nights. This festival is devoted to Goddess Durga, whose nine forms are worshiped on nine days. The festival is celebrated in various ways across India, but in Gujarat it is celebrated in a unique way. Gujarati people follow the primary tradition of performing garba dance for nine nights to pay their respect to Goddess Durga. 

The word Garba, derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Garbha’, means womb. This dance is usually performed around an earthen lantern with light inside it. The earthen lantern is called ‘Garbha Deep’. This lantern represents the human body and the light inside it represents life (fetus) in the womb. Thus, by performing this dance, the dancers honor Goddess Durga- the feminine form of divinity. The ‘Garbha Deep’ has one more interpretation. The earthen lantern is a symbol of the human body within which light, which represents Divinity, resides. Thus, garba is danced around the Garbha Deep to honor the fact that all humans have divine energy within them. 


Garbha Deep


The dancers dance in concentric circles around the Garbha Deep depicting the circle of life in Hinduism. Garba signifies the fact that as the cycle of life revolves from birth to death and again to rebirth, the only constant is God. While the entire universe evolves and changes, Goddess Durga and her powers within human souls remains eternal. Sometimes this dance is also performed around the image of Goddess Durga which represents life. Though the forms of performance may change, the earthen lamp or the image of the Goddess in the center remains constant in each performance, signifying that the universe is represented in the form of a feminine divine energy that remains unchanged and unmoved.                  


Goddess Durga


During the dance performance, Garba dancers move around in circles and make circular movements with their hands and feet. Garba typically consists of snaps, claps and twirls to keep up to the beat of the dance. There are two types of Garba-- ‘be taali garba’ (two-clap Garba) and ‘tran taali garba’ (three-clap Garba). Garba dance begins at a slow tempo, gradually increasing to a fast pace until everybody’s feet merge into trance-like sync. The style of Garba is based on a circular pattern and is characterized by a sweeping action performed side to side. Each form of Garba has extremely easy steps meant for people of all ages, skill levels and abilities.


Garba dance

Garba music is grounded by strong percussion. Professional artists play ‘dhol’ (two-headed drum), ‘dholak’ (small drum) and ‘shehnai’ (double reed organs). These are all Indian percussion instruments that are considered to be auspicious for the event. 


Dhol used in Garba dance

It is mandatory to perform Garba barefoot as Hindus believe that this connects you with mother earth and the Goddess. During Navratri, Garba is performed before ‘aarti’ (worship ritual) in the honor of Goddess Durga. Some traditional Garba songs are ‘Aabu Maa Ambe Joya’, ‘Anand Manga Karu Aarti’, ‘Maa Taro Garbo’, ‘Kesariya Rang’, ‘Laal Re Gulaal’ and ‘Maa Pava Te Gadhathi’. Garba has a more devotional appeal than many other Indian dance forms as it is performed to bhajans and chants praising the many divine forms of the Goddess Durga.

Traditionally, female Garba dancers wear colorful costumes called ‘Chaniya Choli’ and ‘Odhni’. These form a three-piece dress with a long skirt (chaniya), blouse (choli) and veil (odhni). The colorful garba dress is usually embroidered with tiny mirrors, beads, sequins and shells. They also wear heavy silver-plated jewelry like earrings, necklace, ‘maang tikka’, ‘baju bandh’, ‘kamarband’ and bangles. Men wear ‘Kediyu’ which consists of a ‘kafni’ pyjama with a ‘ghagra’ or a short, round ‘kurta’. Colorful ‘pagdi’ (turban) is a must for male dancers. 

Garba costumes

Today, Garba is not only confined to Gujarat but is prevalent across other Indian states and countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, USA, Netherlands, etc. Due to its cultural significance, India has nominated Garba dance to be included in UNESCO’S intangible cultural heritage list for the year 2022.


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